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A Frenemy in Need


Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Risky: It’s a word that’s been used almost relentlessly in relation to Marvel’s new kids on the block — a huge gamble on a part of the Marvel universe that until now was considered niche, unknown to all but the hard-core fans and tricky to translate onto film.

The universe is complex; the factions many and varied; and the characters are more than a little eccentric. It was an accident waiting to happen, but sometimes wonderful things happen in the most unexpected of places.

Let’s cut to the chase — “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a riot. Blistering action, sometimes dizzying especially in 3-D, a smart script and the kind of love-hate relationships and whip-crack dialogue you might find in an episode of “Firefly.”

James Gunn and Nicole Perlman deliver a funny and self-aware script that only occasionally misses a beat or tries to shoehorn in one gag too many. For the most part the laughs keep coming, but the characters are so likable that moments of genuine drama and sadness can be waiting around the corner to catch you unawares. The film never dissolves into sentimentality, however; and if there’s any chance of a syrupy cliché or awkward speechifying, they are immediately crushed by a perfectly timed one-liner. Joss Whedon, look out.

The visuals are stunning; and the scale of the film is noticeably grander than anything we’ve seen Marvel tackle before. Some of the characters are a little thin, “Dr. Who’s” Karen Gillan does a lot of posturing; and Djimon Hounsou has weird eyes and shouts a lot. The cast is stellar in many ways, but some of them do receive short shrift.

But it’s all about those five: the craziest bunch of misfits since “The Outlaw Josey Wales” collected his ragtag group of followers. Chris Pratt may not have the immediate Hollywood looks and swagger of Harrison Ford, the Han Solo/Indiana Jones comparisons are unavoidable; but he quickly makes the role of Peter Quill his own with a sincere playfulness and quick wit. All of the five main characters are beautifully realized, particularly the trisyllabic Groot, played with unexpected variety by Vin Diesel; and the chaotic but misunderstood Rocket, the genetically engineered raccoon played with aplomb by an unrecognizable Bradley Cooper.

The music is brilliantly used, with Peter’s mixtape providing the soundtrack to his adventures. Tyler Bates’s score doesn’t intrude and neither is it memorable, but those classic tracks from the ’70s and ’80s will stay with you long after the film has finished. Peter’s mother had impeccable taste.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” deserves an audience. It is a master class in the kind of originality that cinema these days is crying out for and is delivered with visual flair and tongue-in-cheek humor — perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but a must see for the fans and top-class entertainment for anyone else brave enough to take that risk.

A gamble isn’t really a gamble if it’s a sure thing.


Opens on July 31 in Britain and on Aug. 1 in the United States

Directed by James Gunn; written by Mr. Gunn and Nicole Perlman, based on the comic-book series created by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan; director of photography, Ben Davis; edited by Fred Raskin, Craig Wood and Hughes Winborne; music by Tyler Bates; production design by Charles Wood; costumes by Alexandra Byrne; visual-effects supervisor, Stephane Ceretti; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures (Britain) and Marvel (United States). Running time: 2 hours 1 minute. This film is rated 12A by B.B.F.C. and PG-13 by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Chris Pratt (Peter Quill), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bautista (Drax), Vin Diesel (voice of Groot), Bradley Cooper (voice of Rocket), Lee Pace (Ronan), Michael Rooker (Yondu), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Djimon Hounsou (Korath), John C. Reilly (Corpsman Rhomann Dey), Glenn Close (Nova Prime) and Benicio Del Toro (the Collector).


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